Studies have shown that children today spend more time indoors than previous generations did in their time. The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the trend – lockdowns meant children and adults were forced to stay indoors – but technology itself started the trend. The average American child spends 7.5 hours in front of screens – television, smartphones and computers – at home!
But you, the parents, can do something to reverse the trend and, more importantly, to raise children who love to go outdoors to play, socialize and explore!
Children should enjoy at least 90 minutes every day in outdoor activities. While it seems like a tall order in our busy lives, it includes time spent during break times in school, after-school play, and on weekends. It will require planning on your part but it will be well worth the benefits of outdoor play.
Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children
Keep in mind that “outdoors” doesn’t necessarily have to be green spaces – woods, parks and forests, for example – but it can be more beneficial. For as long as your children are in safe outdoor spaces, then your children will benefit from outdoor play.
- Sunlight is good for your children’s health.
Exposure to sunlight, particularly in the early morning hours, means your children get enough Vitamin D that contributes to good bone growth and muscle development. Bright light also aids in mental focus, wards off the blues, and maintains good sleep.
- Play builds their physical abilities.
Being outdoors can get kids moving more! Nature can best be enjoyed with physical activities – running, jumping and climbing, among others – that, in turn, results in improved physical health. Children even like to challenge themselves to run faster, jump higher or climb better.
- Behavioral issues may decrease due to outdoor play.
Children who spend significant time engaged in outdoor activities with their peers tend to be less stressed and more cheerful, focused and responsible. With a more sociable and cooperative attitude, children find it easier to maintain personal relationships, develop their communication skills, and practice their compassion.
If your children aren’t spending time outdoors as much as you want them to, don’t fret! There’s still time.
Parents, Your Attitude Matters!
But, first, you must have the right attitude to raise kids who go outside to play! Your attitude will matter because your children will not only pick up on your vibes, so to speak, but also mimic it.
- Start as early as possible.
As soon as your children can walk, ditch the stroller and let them walk. You can let them explore Mother Nature in their own way, allow them to get messy and dirty, and encourage them to make friends in their outdoors time.
- Patience and perseverance are a must.
Giving in to your frustration when your children don’t immediately take to outdoor play like ducks to water won’t do any good. But don’t get discouraged – take them outdoors and encourage them to play anyway!
- Take small steps.
If your kids are indoor kids, you shouldn’t push them too hard and too fast to take to the outdoorsy lifestyle. Baby steps are a must, such as short hikes becoming longer hikes over time.
- Talk and listen to your children.
Your kids have a voice and a say, too, in your outdoors plans. You should also explain your reasons and expectations so they know what they’re getting into.
But also remember that you’re the parents and, thus, you’re in charge! Say, “We’re going hiking tomorrow! It will be fun.” Build anticipation even as you plan for fun activities as a family.
Be sure to encourage your kids, too, when they feel challenged and praise them when they do well. Positive reinforcement is an excellent parenting technique!
Effective Tips to Raise Kids Who Love Playing Outside
With that said, here are steps that you can do now to raise children who love being outside and playing with their peers.
Be Their Role Model
Being outdoors whenever you can, scheduling time for outdoor activities, and showing your enjoyment are the top ways to become a role model for your children. Children mimic what their parents do, and being relaxed in outdoor spaces and being relaxed about their attitude to the outdoors are a huge part of it.
And while you’re at it, you may want to think about rolling with it! While you can express your expectations, you should avoid imposing them on your children. Instead, let them develop a love for playing outdoors at their own pace – baby steps, baby!
Schedule Outdoors Time
You don’t even have to go to elaborate lengths to encourage your children to play outside more! You can schedule a weekly family time in an outdoors setting, such as a picnic in the neighborhood park or an easy bike ride through the woods. You don’t have to spend much either as green spaces are free anyway.
You can even schedule outdoors time by considering these steps:
- Limit the time that your kids spend in front of their screens. Instead, encourage them to play outside, even if it’s in a yard with their toys.
- Organize a playdate with other kids. Instead of indoor play, you can agree on more outdoor play.
- Encourage your children to play after doing their homework and chores instead of caving in to their requests for screen time.
- Organize a play club with other parents. It doesn’t even have to be competitive since the main goal is to get your kids moving outdoors.
You may encounter resistance at first but just keep going! Your efforts at scheduling outdoor play will eventually pay off.
Create Conducive Outdoor Spaces in Your Home
Even a small yard can be an excellent place for outdoor play! You can create a conducive place by:
- Putting suitable toys in the yard or balcony. Your children will be more encouraged if they have toys they can play with in these areas.
- Allowing them to be dirty and messy while playing. Sandboxes are cheap and easy to make but children get the best playtime from them.
- Placing natural objects in their outdoor play areas is a great idea, too. Tree stumps, logs and sand and gravel will make your yard seem like the woods.
You may also want to try more al fresco mealtimes in the yard. Be creative with ideas and you’ll eventually have children whose love for the outdoors will be a lifetime passion.
Getting children to play outdoors when there’s so much to entertain them indoors is a challenge. But with time, patience and creativity, your efforts will pay off – and you will get healthier and happier children, too. Everybody wins!